Trader Joe's Comes to Washington

Trader Joe's, the off-beat , California-based grocery chain that's been spreading like wildfire on this side of the country, has come to DC. Not on the perimeters, but right smack in the middle of town, at the corner of 25th and L Streets NW. The residents of West End and Foggy Bottom must be dancing in the aisles, as the only other walking-distance supermarket option for years has been the Safeway in the tucked away complex of the Watergate (at 25th Street and Virginia Avenue NW).

Doors opened on Sept. 1, in the ground floor of The Columbia Residences of Washington, D.C., the swanky yet-to-opened condos, in the space formerly occupied by Columbia Hospital for Women.

I arrived on Day 5, around 6 p.m. The place was crawling with urban dwellers, just out of work, foraging the shelves, which seemed to deplete by the minute. Without a shopping list, I felt free to roam and observe this new store in action.

In addition to its popular private label of food (wine, jam, milk, to name just a few ), TJ is known for its extensive array of frozen food, and this store proved no exception. Customers were practically lined up, shuffling patiently in single file along the frozen food aisle, exploring the offerings of flash-frozen fish by the piece, organic veggies and Chinese dumplings. (I was looking for their frozen naan, but alas, came up short.)

Next time, when the line isn't 20-deep, I'll pick up a bag of the TJ brand of Pappadums (tandoori masala flavor), the ice-cube-esque packages of frozen basil, cilantro and parsley and the lavender-scented laundry softeners that look like giant tea bags.

If you live in Washington, have you been to the new Trader Joe's? If so, what was your experience? Or maybe you've got a TJ favorite to share. Do so in the comments area below.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 14, 2006; 12:48 PM ET Food Shopping
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Thanks to the new DC Trader Joe's I don't have to get lost in Alexandria or trek out to Silver Spring to supplement the 'Trader Joe's' category of Three cheers for a metro-accessible TJ's!

Posted by: Abi | September 14, 2006 1:05 PM

How I miss TJ's! I lived in Arlington for a year and found tons of things that became staples at my house. I really miss the fresh-frozen fish and the boxed soups - especially the creamy roasted red pepper!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 14, 2006 1:16 PM

How is the parking there?

Posted by: Bartolo | September 14, 2006 1:30 PM

I live across the street from Trader Joe's. There is 1 hour free parking in the garage (enter on 25th Street right next to the store doors). Do not park on 25th Street in the "new" no parking zone directly across from the store (It was created to allow the big trucks to deliver to the store). The police have been very active in ticketing those that park there to run into the store.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 14, 2006 1:48 PM

I live 2 blocks from a TJ's in Seattle, and I don't think I could manage dinners at home without their frozen food section. Most everything I've tried is good but I've found that most everything that they import from Italy tends to be excellent (esp.the frozen gnocchi with gorgonzola - add some of their pistachios chopped up along with some of their imported grated pecorino romano..). Their frozen tamales are addictive as well. The frozen Asian-style stuff (esp. the dim sum, and Thai ginger-chicken rolls)doesn't work as well though. The great thing is, it's all relatively cheap so you can eventually try everything once without feeling wasteful.

Posted by: daily in QA | September 14, 2006 2:05 PM

Well, I haven't been to THIS particular Trader Joe's, but my eldest child was born there...This TJ is actually in a high rent location, very unusual for TJs. We are huge fans of TJs frozen food. Their french style green beans in particular. We also pick up our Dr. Bronner's soap there as well. I did buy (only one bottle alas) actual syrupy Balsamic Vinegar with the Trader Joe's label that would have cost five times as much at Balducci's. I haven't found a second bottle.....The Breakfast cereal is also a favorite, their coffee is very good and there's no better place to buy large quantities of quality chocolate.

Posted by: Jeff | September 14, 2006 2:13 PM

I have too many Trader Joe's favorites to name! Their frozen ginger soy carrots and prik-king green beans are so simple to whip up as side dishes, and they have fantastic frozen brown rice that you can microwave in minutes. Their chili-lime cashews and peanut butter pretzels are awesome snacks (as are the papadums that Kim mentioned). They have Plugra butter and Total greek-style yogurt at fantastic prices, and their hummus is amazing as well. TJ's is also great for inexpensive but fantastic spices and baking goods, like real madagascar vanilla beans and extract and great quality chocolate chips. They do run out of stock quickly, which is frustrating, but if you can go at off-peak times you can usually find what you're looking for.

Posted by: Liz | September 14, 2006 2:24 PM

Second the awesome frozen brown rice. Also love the tomato/basil hummus, the cheap nuts and dried fruit, and (before I was vegan) those chocolate raspberry sticks and the japanese rice ice cream ball things (forget what they're called). And don't forget two-buck chuck!!!

Posted by: happy vegan | September 14, 2006 2:52 PM

I'm 5 blocks from the one in Old Town; hopefully it will be less crowded now!

I recommend: spinach punjab sauce, key lime cheesecake, salsa guacamole, and this jar of chopped olives, garlic, and tomatoes that is good on toasted bread. Also Ben and Jerry's ice cream is a lot cheaper there than at a regular supermarket.

Posted by: alexandria | September 14, 2006 2:53 PM

That area is a mess to drive in, especially right after work. Walk there if you can. It will make your life much easier. Get one of those folding shopping carts to carry your stuff if you have to. p.s. I love their fresh soups in the dairy case, especially the tomato bisque and mushroom.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 14, 2006 2:58 PM

Don't confuse TJ's with Whole Foods. Much of the ``private label'' food they sell isn't particularly healthy and is poorly labeled. For example, they put MSG in some of their foods and call it ``natural flavorings.'' Parents, especially those with special needs children where diet is crucial (i.e., autism) should be extremely wary.

Posted by: It's not Whole Foods | September 14, 2006 3:02 PM

They have a sliced Italian bread that, once toasted, goes with everything (cheese, tapenade, cold cuts) and is an absolute steal, I believe it's 2 bucks for 27 ounces. The fair trade organic Ethiopian coffee is also a great deal. And it's the only store around that has Gerolsteiner sparkling water - I was practically raised on that growing up in Germany.

Haven't seen that ice-cubed cilantro yet at "my" TJ's in Baileys Crossroads, but can't wait to get it.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 14, 2006 3:03 PM

I have not been to the new location yet, but I have a love-hate relationship with the TJ in Rockville. The frozen foods, spices and other "private label" products are excellent. However, everytime I have bought their "fresh" produce, it has gone bad within days. And by bad, I mean growing mold. So while the frozen and canned/jarred/boxed products are great, I would be weary of the produce aisle.

Posted by: Liliana | September 14, 2006 3:05 PM

Dark chocolate-covered raisins

Posted by: Four words | September 14, 2006 3:08 PM

Love Trader Joe's, but watch out - many products contain a TON of sodium!

Posted by: Bethesda | September 14, 2006 3:25 PM

I work a scant 1/2 block away from the new TJs and shop regularly at the one in Rockville near my house (prior to that at the one in Bethesda). The new one seems to have the same selection of the MoCo locations (plus wine, of course) and appears well laid-out. Those of us who have worked in the West End for years without a decent low-cost lunch option are thrilled to have it so close. It took me all of five minutes between entering the checkout line and seeing a cashier during heavy traffic... TJs did an excellent job of putting lots of cash registers in this particular store. Very efficient and friendly service! As for the foot itself, well, i wouldn't go there on a regular basis if I didn't like the place. The only thing I stay away from is the produce since it is usually packaged in odd quantities for one person and doesn't look any better than Safeway or Giant. Thanks TJs for taking a chance in the West End!

Posted by: west end worker | September 14, 2006 3:30 PM

You have to try the two buck chuck wine at TJ's.

Posted by: docwonk | September 14, 2006 3:33 PM

The new TJ's is MUCH roomier than Bethesda or Old Town, lots more room to navigate aisles, and more cashier stands serving one big line. How bout a bike rack outside though, TJ's?

Posted by: grg | September 14, 2006 3:35 PM

Hold on there, "It's not WF". I asked my TJs about MSG and they said they NEVER disguise it as something else.

Posted by: Tom | September 14, 2006 3:40 PM

I have an office drawer stacked with goldfish and Trader Joe's treats. (I live near the Silver Spring store.) The triple ginger cookies are to die for - also the crystallized ginger (and any of the dried fruit). Ooh ooh ooh and when they have the Dilettante Chocolates Fruit Medley, pounce! I don't care if it's 5 bucks! It's worth it! They're these brightly-colored, chocolate-covered dried fruit things and ohmygosh they are so good.

Posted by: h3 | September 14, 2006 3:43 PM


Look at the fruit leathers. ``Natural flavorings'' equals MSG. It's not ``disguised'' -- they can legally call MSG ``natural flavorings.'' But it's still MSG.

Posted by: Not WF's | September 14, 2006 3:53 PM

Ginger cats! Joe's O's for fussy husbands! Thai chili-lime cashews! TJ's Oyster Crackers! Gotta love TJ's wherever you find one!

Posted by: Arlington | September 14, 2006 4:02 PM

I am so happy that DC finally got a TJ's.
The fact that the wine selection is varried and well priced makes me go weak in the knees. Before Fall sets in, I highly suggest that you pick up some of their ready made gazpacho. Deelish!

Posted by: Mandy | September 14, 2006 4:10 PM

A friend of mine used to work at one in California, so I knew who they were, but other than eating Clif Bars, Chevalier Noir cookies, and possibly things her mother cooked, I'd never really known much until the Silver Spring one opened. I do nearly all my grocery shopping there now. In fact, I think Grape Nuts, Twinings tea, and certain produce is all I buy anywhere else anymore.

I've found if you're going to not go through bread in three days, you'll need to freeze it, but the artisan breads are generally yummy (the one with pumpkin seeds especially so). I eat the yogurts every day (yay for *not* having high fructose corn syrup and not having the chalky texture that had turned me off fat-free yogurt). Joe-Joe's are much better than Oreos and my roommate and I eat too many of them. Spend too much of my money on the shelf-stable cooked brown rice. Chicken Chile Verde Enchiladas (eaten with said brown rice). The black bean and corn enchiladas with tofu in them. Quiches make very nice lunches at work. Hawaiian Style potato chips, especially the salt and vinegar ones. The frozen Biryani is fabulous - I'll go through a bag a week (I don't care if it's authentic - it's yummy and takes four minutes to cook in a skillet with some form of protein). I'm a big fan of the seafood medley - I dump that in the biryani a lot, sometimes I make pasta. The pesto in the shelf-stable jar is much better, less salty, than others I've had.

Oh, and my office is obsessed with the cookies. It's much cheaper to buy a couple bags of cookies and put them out on a tray than to have the dessert portion of a lunch catered, and the favourite is the Sutter's Mill (or Sutter's Gold?) peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. They're also now big fans of the shortbread cookies with raspberry or apricot jam. I quite like the molasses cookies myself (in addition to the Joe-Joes).

Posted by: MB | September 14, 2006 4:12 PM

Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies (and I don't even have a kid that eats food yet). Asparagus risotto. A whole variety of frozen pizzas that are excellent last minute I don't want to cook dinners. Also the pizza doughs are wonderful -- make your own pizza! Prices on cheese, esp boursin, are FANTASTIC ($3 at TJs vs 7 or 8 at Safeway). Good price on Poland SPring sparkling water, too.

Posted by: Washington DC | September 14, 2006 4:21 PM

I tried buying some beer I'd never had before there and wouldn't advise it. The last two times I tried that, one was pretty bad and the other, upon closer inspection of the label's fine print, turned out to be malt liqour.

TJ's I would say is a nice compliment to your regular grocery store but not a substitute.

Posted by: ahoy | September 14, 2006 4:41 PM

Check your facts. See:

Trader Joe's specifically denies that MSG is hidden under "natural flavors". In fact, they say that they use no MSG in their private label products at all.

--mother of kid w/ autism

Posted by: to NOT WF's | September 14, 2006 4:49 PM

Not being one to go out of my way for groceries, I'm so glad to finally have an in-town alternative to Whole Foods.

Posted by: PH | September 14, 2006 4:58 PM

Even when the line is 20-deep, which I've definitely seen at this location, don't be too put off. They move people through there incredibly quickly for the volume they get, in my experience. (The other grocery stores in town could take a page from their book in that respect.)

Posted by: Pleasantly surprised | September 14, 2006 5:10 PM

Living in California, I have access to two TJ's as well as Whole Foods. TJ's is much cheaper and I need to go at least once a week to check out what's new. Great cheese selection, fresh prepared veggies ready-to-cook and being vegetarian, it's a paradise for frozen entrees. Couldn't get by with using their food. Bread? Nothing better than their whole wheat honey, and all the artisans.

Posted by: ageis | September 14, 2006 7:00 PM

I work at a TJ's, and I can help explain the sky-high sodium. All of the private-label products contain no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. This lack of preservatives would make the food spoil more quickly, which the sodium prevents. I'd rather have high sodium than loads of potassium benzoate.

Posted by: Employee | September 14, 2006 7:15 PM

Be sure and try their frozen pizzas imported from Italy and made in wood burning ovens. Fabulous!

Posted by: SunnyCal | September 14, 2006 11:22 PM

Love those Indian Popadum chips! They are great! I also like the frozen artichoke hearts ... so much better than canned! The Shu mai are wonderful as well as the frozen salmon. All of their nuts are fresh and low priced. Love the bottled pesto sauce I use it on huge shrimp and put on the grill.
Need to try those briyani's they sound great.
Oh and the frozen Naan bread is wonderful!

Posted by: Erin | September 15, 2006 11:02 AM

Used to live in the DC area. I live in NM now and we just got our first one in Santa Fe a couple of years ago and the Albuquerque area within the last year. The frozen bird nests are so delicious!! The soy nuts, edamame,& sunflower seeds are very inexpensive.I also love the frozen salmon & calamari. My husband made a delicious "fish stew" using those along with fresh "canned" crab. The TJ's non fat yogurt and all their dairy products are good. The organic milk is so much cheaper than most places and yes, their choclate covered raspberry and orange sticks are yummy too!

Posted by: Judy in NM | September 19, 2006 11:06 AM

The lines the lines the lines!

I went there yesterday after work and there were at least 40 people in line.

If you are going to go, make a solid 20 minute committment to wait in line

Posted by: dee | September 20, 2006 1:47 PM

Who knew 25th and L NW was "smack in the middle of town."

Posted by: Not from the West Side. | September 20, 2006 6:45 PM

I lived in DC for over 12 years and became very spoiled by the proliferation of TJ's in the area. Now I have to drive 90 minutes to our closest one (which we do about once a month). I hope DC appreciates all of their TJ's! :-)

Posted by: Lansing, MI | September 22, 2006 3:33 PM

After hearing so many positive comments about TJ's, I have been extremely disappointed in the store after it opened. TJ is only good for people that don't know how to cook for themselves. Their fresh produce is practically nil and what I have purchased has spoiled. I do NOT recommend TJs to anyone who wants to cook and not open a can or the freezer for dinner - just go to Giant or Whole Foods.

Posted by: TJ Overrated! | September 22, 2006 5:57 PM

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